Ajay Mathur's '9 to 3' is a master class on consummate songwriting
Benjamin Chaulet

Ajay Mathur is an Indian-born, Switzerland-based musician that has been performing and playing in bands since the ‘70s. In his multifarious career—perhaps most notably highlighted by all-night jam sessions in Delhi with Jimmy Page—he has constructed a superlatively fascinating brand of Indian-spiked, American Roots music.

Mathur's latest album, 9 to 3, was released back in May. The first palpable feature of the record is Mathur’s voice, which sounds like the love child of a Jackson Browne/Tom Petty affair. Both Browne and Petty are known for their inimitable songwriting talents, a trait Mathur also shares.

His pleasantly balanced textures and adroit feel for transition is evocative of Don Henley and, more generally, the Eagles. “Latin Lover” and its pedal steel, maracas and supremely chill pace has a “Tequila Sunrise” vibe. The songwriter assumes a bevy of characters throughout the impressive 15-song output, playing everything from spirited satirist in “Surfing Sunday” to affecting humanitarian in “My World (SOS to the Universe).”

The latter is a brilliantly written track, and it's responsible for most of the noise Mathur is generating through this record. The song has been on USA National Airplay Charts for seven week in a row while more than 260 radio networks have added it to their playlists. And it has every right to be there.

“My World” begins with an ebullient bass line that chugs along and gradually becomes more pronounced as verse transitions seamlessly to chorus. Hand drums enter the fold and a choir of children join the singer for his ‘SOS’ plea. As the kids continue to chant, a spoken verse details ideas of money and debt as abstract social constructs, a fabrication maintained to assert control over people. It’s the album’s best song, but polished songwriting and great hooks can be found throughout the record.

9 to 3 ends with “I Mantra,” perhaps the most Indian-influenced track on the LP. Sitars and guitars ride traditional Indian scales in a fairly psychedelic outro—Mathur even raps at the end of the song(!). If it hasn’t already become apparent, 9 to 3 is an indelible amalgam of worldly elements, and somehow Mathur always manages to coalesce them into skillfully rendered tracks—well done.